Practical Limits

Working within practical limits is something that we all face on a regular basis, regardless of the camera gear that we may own. Rather than blindly accept what other people think the practical limits  of specific piece of photographic equipment may be, it is important for each of us to do our own experimentation. This enables us to establish what we consider to be the practical limits of various components of our integrated camera systems based on our photographic style, image use, and our individual skill sets.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/4000, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3051 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.8 metres

As discussed in a previous article, there have been many advancements in photographic software and computational photography capabilities that can expand our definition of what we  consider as components of an integrated camera system. Only considering our camera bodies and lenses  is taking a limited perspective.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, +0.3 EV, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3595 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.2 metres

All of the images in this article were captured handheld in less than 2 hours during a morning visit to Biggar Lagoon Wetlands in Grimsby. I purposely used an OM-1 E-M1 Mark III with an M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom lens to create all of the photographs featured in this posting.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-800, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3062 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

The M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom is considered to be a ‘consumer grade’ lens, and is sometimes dismissed out-of-hand by some photographers. Some folks are of the opinion that that this lens cannot be effectively used when fully extended to 300 mm and shot wide open at f/6.7 as it is ‘too soft’. So, I decided shoot this lens using these parameters to see what would happen.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/6400, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3923 pixels on the width, subject distance 6.2 metres

Many of the images in this article were captured at reasonably close distances which allowed me to get a good number of pixels directly on the subject birds. This is one of the approaches that we can use to get the best performance from our existing camera gear, regardless of sensor size, or make/model of camera we happen to own.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/4000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3385 pixels on the width, subject distance 11.6 metres

In situations where we may be using a telephoto lens like the M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom lens we do face a practical, technical limit in terms of focal length. If a bird is too distant we will be unable to get a sufficient number of pixels on the subject bird to yield a decently detailed image.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/4000, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3806 pixels on the width, subject distance 12.6 metres

Rather than crop a photograph aggressively it can be more effective to less severely crop an image and thereby provide additional environmental context for a particular image.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/4000, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3571 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

During the past few years advancements in photographic software have led to more effective noise reduction functions. Individual photographers will make their own judgements as to what they find acceptable in terms of noise reduction for their own images.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-1000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3571 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.9 metres

On a personal basis I regularly shoot my Olympus gear up to ISO-6400 without any hesitation. When facing high noise challenges I use a combination of DxO DeepPRIME at the start of my process, and Topaz Denoise AI at the end.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-800, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2677 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

I chose to use my wife’s OM-D E-M1 Mark III to create the images for this article as this camera does not have Bird AI Subject Tracking. Rather than bemoan the fact that a camera does not have the latest and greatest auto-focusing feature, it can be instructive to use other technology that may be available with a particular camera to see what can be accomplished.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/6400, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4284 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.8 metres

Pro Capture H is a wonderful computational photography feature that is available on a number of Olympus/OM System cameras including OM-1, E-M1X, E-M1 Mark II and Mark III and E-M5 Mark III models. I used this technology for all of the photographs in this article to demonstrate some of the compositions that can be created with Pro Capture H when using an E-M1 Mark III.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/6400, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3713 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.8 metres

After processing a good number of test images I found that the M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II was quite a competent zoom lens. Of course, each of us can form our own subjective assessment of image quality.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-800, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3571 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

In my view, folks looking for a lightweight, small and cost effective telephoto option, should consider this zoom. I didn’t see any reason why this lens cannot be shot wide open at its maximum focal length. The RAW files produced by this zoom didn’t require any additional work in post when compared to similar photographs I’ve created with other M.Zuiko lenses I own. I spent my typical 3-4 minutes (including computer processing time) on each photograph featured.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/4000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3660 pixels on the width, subject distance 11.6 metres

It is important to note that other photographers may reach a different assessment in terms of their practical limits with the M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom lens.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, +0.7 EV, 1/5000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3297 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.9 metres

Identifying the practical limits of a lens in terms of aperture and focal length is only part of the story. We could also establish our minimum handheld shutter speed, and maximum acceptable ISO value for individual lenses.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/6400, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2999 pixels on the width, subject distance 6.2 metres

For example, I know that my practical limit when using the 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm zoom handheld is a minimum shutter speed of 1/10th of a second, When using my E-M1X with the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 or M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 f/4 IS my practical handheld limit is 4 seconds when either of those lenses is used at the wide end.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/6400, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4418 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.8 metres

We should never accept the practical limits for specific pieces of camera gear established by other photographers. Their results may be representative, but may not be the best possible. That includes any of the results that I report on this website with my own gear. Practical limits are personal limits. These can only be established by an individual photographer when they experiment with their own camera gear.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post.  I used Pro Capture H set to 60 frames per second, with Pre-Shutter Frames and the Frame Limiter both set to 15. Crops are noted where appropriate. Images were resized for web use. This is the 1,179 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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2 thoughts on “Practical Limits”

  1. I think, Tom, that what your article(s) tells me is that I should go out and practice taking photographs more often. I’m not the most technically minded person, but if I could take photos like these with my EM1 (a camera beyond my current capabilities) using its technical abilities, I’d be really happy. Memo to self: pick a process to learn, Pro-capture, photo stacking etc., go out and practice. After all, it’s not even film we’re wasting these days.

    1. Hi Simon,

      Ongoing practice coupled with personal experimentation helps us learn how to best use our camera gear. Before key bird migration seasons I find it helpful to go out with my camera and practice specific skill sets. For example photographing birds-in-flight at long focal lengths with teleconverters. I can’t speak for other photographers but I find that without ongoing practice, I have specific skill sets that can erode pretty quickly.

      Tom

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